Villagers pray for couple's safe return

EXCLUSIVEBy Dave GooderhamA CLOSE-KNIT community was praying last night for the safe return of a popular couple who have been declared missing in the aftermath of the earthquake horror.

EXCLUSIVE

By Dave Gooderham

A CLOSE-KNIT community was praying last night for the safe return of a popular couple who have been declared missing in the aftermath of the earthquake horror.

The Foreign Office said both Stuart and Tania Shields, from Ridgewell, on the Essex-Suffolk border near Haverhill, were on its missing list following the Asian tsunami terror.


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It added 17 Britons were confirmed dead in the disaster, which has claimed 50,000 lives, and warned the toll would rise as rescue workers reached devastated parts of Thailand and Sri Lanka.

Foreign Office officials said Mr and Mrs Shields were both on its list of British nationals who were not yet accounted for following the earthquake and tsunami waves that swept south-east Asia.

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It is understood that the couple were enjoying a break in the exotic tourist island of the Maldives and were swimming in the Indian Ocean when they were swept up in the aftermath of the huge tsunami wave.

News of their disappearance stunned residents in the quiet village of Ridgewell, where the couple and close members of their family live.

One resident, who asked not to be named, said: "Stuart is a very likeable person who would help anybody. He is one of those people who would talk to anybody and is always a friendly person. He has a very special relationship with Tania and they are an ideal couple."

Both sets of families were too upset to talk last night, but the couple's neighbours, Dave and Lynn Mason, said "They are a devoted couple and very friendly and quiet - they are just ideal people to have living next door.

"They are both heavily involved in village life. They have touched so many people in the village, they are lovely people and so pleasant."

A former Hedingham School and Thurrock College student, it is understood that Mr Shields, 37, who was heavily involved in the village football team, works as a senior manager for a national firm.

A Foreign Office spokesman said last night that Stuart and Tania Shields were both still on its list of British nationals who were missing after the disaster.

But he added its information could be a little out of date as it was likely that missing people would contact their families direct to say they were safe and well rather than use official channels.

Meanwhile, another family from East Anglia was also praying last night for information on the whereabouts of their son.

James Hurren, 22, from Great Yarmouth, went missing on the devastated Thai island of Phi Phi and a copy of his passport photograph has been posted on a help board outside the city hall in Phuket, along with a contact number for people with information of his whereabouts.

dave.gooderham@eadt.co.uk

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